A Few Good Questions

Good to be back – G’day folks. It’s really been a while since i have had the opportunity to put pen to paper. The last few months have been crazy and I have personally been busy with some really interesting challenges. Some of these challenges have been around scaling some really large enterprise applications breaking new ground in many new ways. Lots of good lessons learned and some even worth sharing with each of you. But I’ll leave that for later, so watch out for some interesting tit-bits on the challenges of moving enterprise applications to the cloud. This specific post focuses on an issue I encountered very recently during a conversation with a colleague of mine.

A few interesting questions – Here’s some questions i recently got asked by a colleague of mine who I worked with a long time ago at a large global consulting outfit. Let’s start by briefly skimming over both the questions –

  • What are your thoughts about digital and how is it changing the way you deliver systems that perform/scale
  • How are some of the current market trends impacting the way you package these services for customers

This colleague of mine and I share a few things in common but the one that stands out is the fact that both of us were nurtured in many ways by the same mentor (Dr. Rajesh Mansharamani – http://www.cmgindia.org/about-us/founding-board-members/). I won’t dig too much into the past since it’s not very relevant for purposes of this conversation but if you get a chance google him and look up some of his courses of Systems Performance Engineering at Practical Performance Analyst (http://ipen.practicalperformanceanalyst.com). Dr. Rajesh Mansharamani is great (and I should add a very humble man) who’s depth of knowledge is astounding. Dr. Rajesh’s approach to Systems Performance Engineering a whole has definitely taught me a lot and more importantly has shaped the way how I view the discipline of Systems Engineering.

So let’s take some time and dive into each of these questions, understand where my colleague is coming from, what’s driving him to ask these questions, what are his customers asking from him and how are they impacting delivery of services to the end customer.

Digital…Analog..FM…AM… – Let’s look at the first question, “What are your thoughts about digital and how is it changing the way you deliver systems that perform/scale “.  It might just make sense to break that down into two separate parts –

  • What is digital
  • How is the move to digital impacting the delivery of systems that perform/scale

When individuals today refer to the “Digital” fad from a technology stand point what is it that are they really referring to?

Let’s look at what Google has to say about the definition for Digital and dig into the concept of “Digital” a bit deeper. According to Google, “Digital – Relates to information (of signals or data) expressed as series of the digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity such as voltage or magnetic polarization. It involves the use of computer technology.  So broadly speaking Digital refers to the ability to send data over a signal by encoding information in the signals and sending the information through as 0’s and 1’s.” Google’s definition of the word “Digital” is what most of us would have been conversant with and probably what would initially come to mind when the term (current fad) “Digital” is mentioned.

Now let’s look at what McKinsey (www.mckinsey.com) has to say about Digital and get their perspective on it, “For some executives, it’s about technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect. But such diverse perspectives often trip up leadership teams because they reflect a lack of alignment and common vision about where the business needs to go. This often results in piecemeal initiatives or misguided efforts that lead to missed opportunities, sluggish performance, or false starts.

Even as CEOs push forward with their digital agendas, it’s worth pausing to clarify vocabulary and sharpen language. Business leaders must have a clear and common understanding of exactly what digital means to them and, as a result, what it means to their business. It’s tempting to look for simple definitions, but to be meaningful and sustainable, we believe that digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things. To help make this definition more concrete, we’ve broken it down into three attributes: creating value at the new frontiers of the business world, creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences, and building foundational capabilities that support the entire structure.

You can read more about McKinsey’s view on “Digital” at http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/what-digital-really-means. McKinsey’s view of Digital consists broadly about –

  • Helping create value for customers at the new frontiers
  • Creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences
  • Building foundational capabilities that support the entire structure to deliver the customer value & experiences
  • Doing all of the above with a suitable pace that is required to bring the value & experiences to the market (given the ever shortening lifespans of products/technologies/paradigms)

In essence the “Digital” paradigm which we are referring to here within this article could be referred to as a paradigm that speaks about creating, delivering customer value and experiences in an always on and totally connected world. This is a connected world which is characterized by IoT (Internet Of Things), Cloud Computing, Virtual everything (Storage, Services, compute, etc.), Software Defined Networking (SDN), etc. so far based on what we have seen, “Digital” seems (personally) like a great way of packaging up some of the current market trends, capability and technology in a nice good looking shrink wrapped package where delivery is required to be sped up through turbocharged express delivery services.

So now that we have looked at what “Digital” means let’s talk about how the move to “Digital” is impacting delivery of Performance.

As a customer wouldn’t you think that every solution that is designed is and built should conform to its specifications and just work. Now that does hold true mostly from a functional standpoint where (most) customers are able to articulate their requirements and needs very clearly. But what happens when you come down to the Non Functional attributes of the system where (most) customers generally (due to the complex nature of the technicality involved) find it tough to articulate their Non Functional requirements and clearly define them within a context where they are able to hold their vendor accountable.

Non Functional attributes of systems i.e. Scalability, Reliability, Availability, Security, Performance, etc. require a lot more effort and technical know how to get right. But more importantly the cost of building these Non Functional attributes into systems can be very high especially when you are looking at complex, large enterprise systems and this is what deters (most) programs / projects from considering going down the path and articulating well defined Non Functional Requirements. Yes, the move to the cloud, virtual computing, IoT (Internet of Things), All things virtual, SDN (Software Defined Networking), etc. is putting the onus on delivery of some aspects of these Non Functional attributes partially on other vendors but at the end of the day the customer (on who’s dime the system is built) still owns the responsibility for delivering the QoS (Quality Of Service) for end to end solution.

The move to “Digital” when looked at through the lens shaped by the trends that exist in the marketplace today i.e. cloud computing, virtual computing, IoT, SDN, etc. require greater focus and emphases on the various Non Functional attributes for the system being designed/developed/built. The move to “Digital” requires both the customer (building the application) and the vendor responsible for delivering the system to be cognizant of the various dimensions or Non Functional attributes (i.e. Scalability, Reliability, Availability, Security, Performance, etc.) that could impact delivery of the so called customer value or customer experience in the new always on and connected “Digital” world.

In essence, the so called “Digital” world we are now living in requires greater emphasis on understanding what Non Functional attributes really impact your ability to deliver the QoS (Quality Of Service) so that relevant investments can be made on building the required capability into the system being designed/delivered.

Ooops…what a long winded explanation for a short question!!!

Trends impacting delivery of services – Let’s now briefly look at the second question and what it means in the above context, “How are some of the current market trends impacting the way you package these services for customers “. We have spent some time defining what we mean by living in a “Digital” or always on and connected world and with that in the background let’s highlight some of the challenges that one might encounter in delivery of the relevant services –

  • Customers are constantly expecting their vendors to drive down costs of delivery through use of various low cost technology paradigms that exist in the market place.
  • Customers are expecting their vendors to increase use of the cloud, virtual computing technologies, IoT, SDN, etc. capability across the solution stack. While these technologies/paradigms could be responsible for a reduction in the time/costs to deliver be-spoke solution, however correspondingly they have increased the complexity involved in building resilient, scalable and high performance solutions
  • Customers have many more options available at their fingertips and have little patience for poorly designed or poorly performing solutions in an always on and connected “Digital” world.
  • Customers are now able (Using Social Media) to take to the various platforms and rant about your poor (QoS) service which can very soon start impacting your credibility and marketability
  • Customers now have the ability to connect with each other and exchange views on the credibility and capability of the service provider making it a lot more difficult for service providers to get away with poorly designed or poorly performing solutions
  • Customers expect a single view of the data irrespective of where they are connecting from, what device they are using or the time of day/night they are accessing the system

The statements above are possible just some of the few key dimensions impacting delivery of services in an always on and connected “Digital” world.

Conclusion – So whether you live in the “Digital” (always on and connected world) or “Analog” world it really does not matter. Fads will come and go and so will the use of terminology that confuses the hell out of the average Joe. What really matters is that you keep your vendors accountable by making sure you understand thoroughly the Functional + Non Functional attributes you need embedded into your systems so that you can deliver the relevant Quality Of Service (QoS) to your customers.

So make it a point to get the vendor to thoroughly engineer the system for the relevant Non Functional attributes so that you don’t lose out to the new start-up who is just waiting to jump and grab your customer base with some mean looking high performing solutions engineered from ground up to deliver a great end user experience built “virtually” for the “Digital” world…:)

Trevor Warren (Linked In) loves hacking open source, designing innovative solutions and building trevor_warrencommunities. Trevor is inquisitive by nature, loves asking questions and some times does get into trouble for doing so. He’s passionate about certain things in life and building solutions that have the ability to impact people’s lives in a positive manner is one of them. He believes that he can change the world and is doing the little he can to change it in his own little ways. When not hacking open source, building new products, writing content for Practical Performance Analyst, dreaming up new concepts or building castles in the air, you can catch-him bird spotting (watching planes fly above his house).

Practical Performance Analyst as an Open Body Of Knowledge on Systems Performance Engineering (SPE) built, maintained by Trevor with the support of his army of volunteer elves (PPA Volunteers). You can reach trevor at –  trevor at practical performance analyst dot com.

The views expressed on this web site are his own and not that of his employer.

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